How Does Spending Time Outdoors Benefit Eye Health?

Spending time outdoors can be helpful in many ways. Did you know outside time can be beneficial for vision and eye health? It can reduce eye strain and fatigue caused by extensive exposure to screens, improve eyesight development in children, regulate our circadian rhythms, and overall help to improve our general health.

Outdoor Time to Combat Eye Fatigue
Many of us spend our days with our eyes focused on screens. Whether it be for work, school, or fun, looking at a screen is a necessary occurrence in our daily lives. However those who are exposed to screens for an extended period, can experience eye fatigue, which is caused by any prolonged use of the eyes. Fortunately, spending time outside can reduce eye strain and fatigue caused by the continued use of digital devices.¹

One recommended exercise to combat eye fatigue is the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, focus on something 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds². The 20-20-20 exercise is a great practice to do outdoors. When we’re outside, our eyes are tracking movements at greater distances than inside spaces can provide. This gives our eyes a helpful break from looking closely at screens.

Natural Light to Reduce Risk of Myopia
Research suggests that natural light and high levels of contrast found outside can help reduce the risk of myopia, also known as nearsightedness, in children and young adults. Myopia is caused by an increase in the eye’s axial length (the length of the eye from front to back). With myopia, the eye grows longer than normal, risking quality of vision, as the excess growth makes seeing far away blurry. A study published by conducted randomized controlled trials analyzing the effects of outdoor light on axial length. It was found that “Exposure to outdoor light has been shown to reduce eye growth, thereby reducing the progression of myopia”³. 

Outside Play to Help Children’s Eye Development
When spending time outside, children typically take part in activities that exercise their eyes. Playing catch, soccer, or climbing on the playground are all activities that allow developing eyes to practice tracking distant movements. By exercising their eyes, children are strengthening their ability to see far away. Outdoor activities help to develop movement-tracking skills, confirming that spending time outside is a great resource for developing eyes. 

Sunlight and Our Circadian Rhythm
Losing sleep can also affect our eye health⁴. By losing sleep, we disrupt our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm, as defined by the National Institute of General Medical Services, is a 24 hour cycle that our bodies follow that corresponds with the light/dark cycle of the sun. A signifier of a healthy circadian rhythm is activity during the day and rest during the night.

Exposure to natural light may help regulate the body’s circadian rhythm5. Spending time in the sunlight sends a signal to our bodies to be active. If we are continuously active during the day, our circadian rhythm falls into the pattern of the sun cycle. This allows our bodies to rest easily during the night. According to this medical journal by the National Library of Medicine, our bodies heal significantly when we sleep. It is important to note that this pertains to vision and eye health as well. If our eyes sustain injuries during the day, a good night’s sleep can help to heal them

Practice Sun Safety to Reap the Benefits of Your Outdoor Time
Always keep in mind, while time outdoors is important and can be beneficial to our overall health, it remains essential that we practice sun safety. Wearing sunglasses with 100% UV protection and using sunscreen with SPF are vital steps to take before having fun in the sun.

Overall, while getting outside may seem tough in our busy day-to-day lives, it has been reported that just one hour can make a difference6. Engaging in outdoor family activities, such as outdoor walks and meals, can help improve eye and vision health for everyone. So as warm weather approaches, take this opportunity to enjoy the sunlight and spring air. Your eyes will thank you!



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